Data storage

Data storage: the “5D” method could contain the equivalent of 10,000 Blu-Ray discs

An advanced version of the technology used to create DVDs and Blu-rays can store a lot more data, even if it takes a while


28 October 2021

A 1-inch square of glass can store 6 gigabytes of data

Yuhao Lei and Peter G. Kazansky, University of Southampton

A new method of writing data to glass using lasers could store 500 terabytes on a single optical disc, but its creation takes so long that its applications can be limited.

The technique uses technology similar to existing optical media, but can store 10,000 times more data than Blu-ray discs. It’s a laser that sends out pulses every femtoseconds – 1 quadrillionth of a second – to etch tiny holes in glass.

Yuhao lei at the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues call the five-dimensional (5D) optical data storage method because it uses two optical dimensions, based on the polarization and intensity of light, as well as the three usual spatial dimensions, to record data.

In testing, the researchers managed to write 6 gigabytes of data onto a 1-inch square of glass. They could replay the data with an accuracy of between 96.3 and 99.5%, which could be improved to 100% with an error correction algorithm, Lei explains.

“The main challenge for us is the write speed,” he says, as they could only write 225 kilobytes per second, which means the 6 gigabytes took about 6 hours. “We are not currently doing parallel writing [where multiple laser beams write onto the material]. We are working to improve this.

“This data storage is very durable and can withstand high temperatures, which means it can live almost forever,” says a team member. Pierre Kazansky at the University of Southampton.

With small adjustments, the write speed could become four times faster, says Kazansky – although he’s not sure yet that this can significantly increase the risk of errors. The intention is to provide a storage method for the national archives, says Lei.

“It’s great to see the seemingly huge improvements that have been made to the write speeds and overall performance of this storage technology in a lab environment in just a few short years,” says Ben Fino-Radin from Small Data Industries, a New York-based archiving company, reporting a 75-fold improvement over an earlier version of the technique that could only write at 3 kilobytes per second in 2017. “What remains uncertain is the practical role 5D glass storage could hypothetically play in the future. “

Journal reference: optical, DOI: 10.1364 / OPTICA.433765

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